Life In Prison

Taking Pictures

Getting new shoes in prison is the equivalent of getting a new car in the free world. Commissary put pictures up of the new shoes they would be selling a few weeks ago and all the women flocked to the commissary building to check them out.  I overheard one girl say, “I don’t like the new shoes, they’re ugly.” Her friend said, “They’re all right,  you just have to wear them with the right clothes.”  I looked down at my kakis and thought that we all rock the same outfit in here and it’s either kakis or grey sweats all day everyday and it made me laugh:)  It takes a while to get your bearings in prison and that’s why I was so grateful when my friend Too Tall helped me figure out how to do laundry for the first time.  Too Tall has become a bit of a protector to me.  She always makes sure I’m doing ok when I come in from the track. The other day she said, “Porsche, I would go to the SHU for you.(meaning I would be willing to protect you even if it meant trouble) If anyone ever tries to hurt you they will have to go through me first.  You have a good heart Portia and that’s hard to come by in prison.”  Too Tall has been here for almost 10 years, and like her name implies,  she’s very tall and would be a force to be reckoned with. I think that she’s a gentle, kind woman, but she tells me not to let word get out that she’s such a softy. A few days ago I wanted to use the microwave in the unit but the line was long so I just sat down by Too Tall. She said, “What’s up Porsche?” I told her I was going to cook something but changed my mind because the line was too long.  She stood up in the middle of the day room and yelled, “Porsche is next in the microwave, she never uses it and you guys are always hogging the microwave!”  I felt kind of weird, but she marched me up to the front of the line and nobody said a word:)

There are certain things that I have learned to avoid in prison and one of them is doing laundry.  Many of the fights take place over laundry and there are women in prison who will do your laundry for just a few bucks a week.  In my opinion it’s worth not having to deal with the drama, and they all take trade. The prison opens the yard for 10 minutes every hour so we can go to rec or work or wherever we need to go. Then we have to stay where we are at until they open the yard again an hour later, they call it a 10 minute move. In the evening around 7:30 when everyone gets back from the move there’s always a big line for the showers and I always avoid those times!  A few weeks ago we were all locked in the rec barn while the prison did a shake down of our unit. We were there for a couple of hours and when they finally let us come back everyone made a mad dash for the showers. When we got to the shower near our rooms, one of my neighbors beat the group in and was jumping in the shower.  I watched as 6 women came running up and said, “Sorry, you can’t get in there we called the shower outside.”  They had already decided what order everyone would be using the shower and the woman was standing there in her robe looking at me like, “help me.”  The 6 women backed each other up so there was nothing she or I could do. She continued, “Portia, I was here first, I should be able to get in.”  I agreed with her but just smiled and put my hands up.”  The poor woman started stomping her feet and yelled, “It’s not fair, It’s not fair! I was here first!”  Of course she was right but you have to pick your battles in prison and 6 to 2 is bad odds:)

This was a good week for me because I got to take pictures on 3 different occasions. First I took pictures of a few staff members in their college colors and the pictures turned out good and I really enjoyed taking them. I love taking pictures and feel more comfortable with a camera in my hands than about any other place.  The next day was the mock job fair and we had people bring in normal clothes that some of the women wore at a fashion show.  I loved taking the pictures, and afterward some of the inmates commented, “Hey Portia, you looked like TMZ out there.” Finally on Thursday the Mexican Consulate came into the prison and spoke to a large group of women.  I was invited to take pictures and was honored to participate. While I was waiting for the consulate to arrive I was talking with my friend “B” . An inmate overheard us and thought that I was making fun of the Mexican population and word spread fast that I thought I was too good to take pictures at the event.  When I walked out to take pictures I sat down near a clerk.  She picked up her stuff and walked off with a dirty look thrown my way.  I was made aware of the misunderstanding and tried to straighten it out but the damage had been done.  A few of the staff members were told about the incident and another clerk from education told my roommate, “Just look how miserable Ms. Louder is, everyone is coming down on her.” I felt bad but knew that I didn’t say what I was being accused of, so I decided to do the best job that I could taking pictures and figured it was an opportunity not to worry about what others think. After the consulate was done speaking he walked up to me and thanked me and grabbed my arm in a gesture of kindness and started speaking to me. I n prison physical contact is strictly prohibited and I got so nervous when he asked me a question that I just looked at him and said, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Spanish.”  He smiled at me and said, “I’m speaking to you in English right now.”  Oh my! I was so embraced!  All night the words, “I don’t speak Spanish kept going through my mind:)” Oh well, I will never forget the day I took pictures of the Mexican consulate.

A while back I got quite angry because I heard that a staff member made some disparaging remarks about the Mormon faith in front of a large group of women. When I first heard about the incident I wanted her to apologize publicly and was really bothered by it.  I’m grateful that I took some time to think about the situation before I complained.  I have learned a few things in prison:  First of all I wasn’t present when the remark was made so I don’t know what really took place. Second, people are human and make mistakes so I’m reminded that it’s important that we give others the latitude we would want in the same situation. I’m also learning not to worry about what others think or say, what they think or say doesn’t change who we are. Knowing who we are is what’s important! I’m learning to see the best in people, because when I see the best in others I find the best in myself and I’m learning to give people a break! I was deeply humbled by a comment made by a reader on my blog last week, a woman that lost a child to suicide reached out to me in love, sincerity and kindness and I want her to know that I’m honored to be her friend. The strength in this woman is inspiring! I will keep you all posted on what happens this week with my legal case, your support is a great service to me and my family, we thank you!

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